The twists and turns of a PhD

Narisa Phinichkusolchit, a 3rd year PhD student based at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research writes about her experience of needing to change her supervisor and project part way through her PhD.

It’s no secret that pursuing a PhD is full of uncertainties. Through my series of unfortunate events, as some may call it, I learnt that how you see it though, is entirely up to you! I knew that sometimes when you embark on a research project it does not always pan out. It happens, it is science after all. But the last thing that I had anticipated was my supervisor leaving to a different country midway through my PhD. Not only did this have a knock on effect on my project, but also lead to me changing groups and my supervisor. My initial reaction was ‘Oh no…’ 

 Once the dust settled

Though I will admit I did panic... A lot of questions were running wild through my mind - 'what is going to happen to my project?' 'Do I have to move?' 'Who is going to supervise me if I did stay?' The first thing in situations such as this which I found useful was to have an open and honest conversation with your supervisor. Together we went through his decision for leaving, what were my options and how to move forward. Not only did I speak to my supervisor, I also spoke to anyone and everyone that I thought could help me make a decision that would be in my best interest. Having the support of my friends and family were also irreplaceable. I do believe that you shouldn't be afraid of what your supervisor or other people would say. Think about what would make you happy, what your priorities are and what you want to do. It is your PhD after all!

 Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

As an international student from Thailand, living in the UK is pretty far from home. So moving even further to Canada was going to be a hard thing to do. Coupled with the fact that I would most likely have to start over again with a new project in a lab that wasn't set up, it didn't seem like the best decision for me. I decided to stay because it was in my best interest to. Once this was decided, I spoke to my supervisor and we discussed who we both thought would be the best fit for me as my new supervisor. This decision had to be agreed upon with my new supervisor of course. My new supervisor is great and I do think that it was the best choice for me. 

A mountain range with a road twisting through it.

 Image credit to Cagatay Orhan via

The transition

I was lucky enough to have the support of both my supervisor and the institute in helping me transition from my old lab into my new one. Transitioning from one lab to another can be tricky but members of my new lab are really friendly which did make it easier. During this transition period, I think it is important to try and keep an open mind and adapt to both the new environment and supervisor. I think that it is safe to say that I had made the right choice and I do definitely feel supported greatly by my new supervisor and lab. 

Moving Forward

Not only did I have to change supervisors and labs, but I have had to wrap my old project up and start a new one. It isn't uncommon for a student to have more than one project during their PhD, and for their projects to change. I have however, just started my third year of my PhD, so it is a little bit daunting as I feel as I have to learn another project and complete as much of it within 2 years. I can apply the techniques and experience that I have learnt from my previous project to my new one. I hope that I can be more efficient with my new project. In hindsight, as my first project was beginning to tail, perhaps a new project that may be more promising isn’t such a bad idea.

Disruptions during a PhD can be difficult. However, how you react to these situations is up to you! Making the most of a tough situation is important, but remembering why you started your PhD is a must. At the end of the day, you are doing it for you. 

When challenges such as a change in supervisors arise during a research degree, it can be an immense source of stress for a PGR and it can be difficult to know where to turn. The UofG PGR supervisory support structure is quite comprehensive, however, and there is always someone to talk to. Beyond the Primary Supervisor, every PGR should have at least one Secondary Supervisor. Together this team is responsible for the academic development of the PGR. In addition to this, every PGR should have an Adviser of Studies/PG convenor, usually via their Graduate School. This person is not directly related to the PGR’s research but is present for more general advice and concerns about the University. Contact information for this direct team can be found on your Student Center on MyGlasgow.

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